Coburn offers amendment to remove Gulf Coast money from healthcare bill

A $100-million earmark for Gulf Coast recovery in the healthcare bill believed to have swayed Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) early support may soon be no more.

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An amendment introduced Wednesday by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) would strip that provision -- now known to many as the "Louisiana Purchase" -- from the bill entirely.

“Dr. Coburn believes it’s immoral for the Reid bill to cut Medicare benefits for seniors while financing special-interest, pork-barrel projects for vulnerable incumbents,” said John Hart, the senator's spokesman.

Shortly after Coburn's announcement, Landrieu's office fired back. Her spokesman, Aaron Saunders, accused Coburn of orchestrating a "political stunt" that would ultimately hurt Louisiana residents, who are still rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"He has made a habit of grandstanding against Louisiana without any knowledge of the challenges faced by our residents as they struggle to recover from the worst natural disaster to ever hit America," Saunders told The Hill.

“Apparently, Sen. Coburn supports an inequitable federal formula that would leave the poorest Louisianians without health care," he added. "This population hardly constitutes a ‘special interest.’"
 
Nevertheless, Coburn's effort is likely to garner serious support from Senate Republicans, who have long chided Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for including the hurricane assistance money in the chamber's bill in the first place. While many in the party seem to support an increase in disaster aid to the Gulf Coast, a number of GOPers have lamented publicly that the healthcare bill is an inappropriate vehicle through which to provide it.

"You haven't heard the Republicans say 'here is my price," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said last weekend on "Face the Nation. "The American people don't like that. It should be on the merits."

But Democrats may be more reluctant to support Coburn's amendment, in part because it is unclear how Landrieu might vote on a healthcare bill that lacks Gulf Coast recovery assistance.

Many in the majority party have dismissed suggestions that Reid included the $100 million of support in the healthcare bill as a way to woo Landrieu, insisting instead the Louisiana Democrat would make her final decision on the merits of the entire bill. But few would deny that Landrieu, one of her party's leading centrists, still remains on the fence.

"Mary Landrieu is a very good legislator and she does two things very well," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also told CBS. "One, she delivers the goods for Louisiana. She has constantly and I think the people of Louisiana respect her for it. Second, she has real views on healthcare those are taken into account as well."